Is fear of change at the root of Europe’s anti-immigrant backlash?


Eiffel Tower the most well known landmark of France

Source: Brookings

By Matthew Groh and Tara Vishwanath

For Syrian refugees, Europe is the land of hopes, dreams, and contradictions. On one hand, the job opportunities, formalized asylum processes, and relatively generous resettlement programs in countries such as Germany and Sweden are much preferred to United Nations refugee camps in Jordan or informal settlements in Lebanon. On the other hand, Europe has the strongest anti-immigration attitudes in the world. Even before the first major influx of Syrians in 2015, Europeans were more likely than people from any other continent to be opposed to immigration, according to Gallup opinion research.

Today, over one million Syrian refugees live in Europe, and 4.4 million live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. To better understand refugees’ diversity of experience and opinions towards them, we fielded an opinion survey across Europe and the Middle East. We sought to answer: What drives negative opinions on immigrants and refugees? Are people worried that immigrants will take their jobs, change their culture, or create security problems? Do negative opinions of host country residents affect where Syrian refugees want to migrate? Do Syrians face similar or different problems across destination countries?

Previous research has focused on how demographics explain public opinions. Pew’s Global Attitudes Survey and research using data from the British Social Attitudes Surveys reveal that being male, white, conservative, and uneducated are consistently associated with negative attitudes towards immigration. We explore how environmental factors affect attitudes to immigration.

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